Corporate travel is crucial to success, but COVID-19 and inflation have complicated matters. As the world slowly recovers, the pendulum is starting to swing back towards supplier and stakeholder business travel. Companies and travelers are becoming more creative and strategic, with careful planning at the forefront to maximize sales performance and build strong relationships.
Sales and account management meetings with current or prospective customers will lead the way this year when it comes to business travel, according to the Global Business Travel Association. Although business leaders widely anticipate a recession, travel managers still expect more business travel.
However, the corporate traveler mindset has changed since the pandemic, says Rob McKeever, national key account manager at Galtronics USA Inc.
“People are more conscientious around others,” he explains. “In the past, it was just ‘get to the airport and go!’ Now people are more mindful of the process. Airlines, hotels and car rentals took a hard hit during the pandemic. Costs of amenities and even basics are up as a result. I’m always looking for the most cost-effective travel solutions.”
Companies and corporate travelers have had much to contend with, like post-pandemic stress, inflation, shareholder expectations and the list of uncertainties grows. Since meetings via Zoom, Teams, Webex, Google Meet, and the like have gained momentum, vendors have been tasked with determining the most effective way to meet with clients, while the cost of travel has skyrocketed.
In fact, a recent survey conducted for U.S. Travel Association by J.D. Power, found that the top reason business travel may be limited is company or department budget constraints. Another factor executives consider when authorizing travel is the effectiveness of each business trip.
Physical travel for business these days has to be purposeful, contends Laura Cipolla, an independent manufacturers’ representative at ContractSource. Companies have had to learn to be thoughtful when factoring in airfares, hotels, and dining-out prices – value must offset the time and expense. It must make financial sense.
Balancing in-person and virtual interactions
Client interaction remains reliant on multiple forms of communication, according to Elizabeth Kaufman, senior account director at SmartBrief, especially as companies are more selective with the types of events they travel to and for how long they may be in attendance. Since international travel can put a more significant strain on finances and internal resources and can be time-consuming and exhausting, for stakeholders, virtual meetings have been a valuable resource.
Depending on the industry, there are nuances in how companies interact and meet.
“Most businesses are operating on a hybrid schedule, which can make coordinating in-person meetings trickier and require some agility and flexibility,” says McKeever of the wireless industry. The convenience of gathering virtually keeps communication flowing, although he says he still considers the in-person model ideal.
“While I appreciate the convenience of video conferencing platforms like Zoom, you don’t get the same information and interaction from the customer when you’re not in front of them,” McKeever says. “An in-person gathering can be a completely different meeting. There’s body language, feedback and customers are more likely to discuss sales, technology, the direction in which the companies are going and the specificity of their needs.”
How corporate business travelers book flights
Deciding whether to self-book or consult an agent comes down to points and perks, according to Cipolla, who prefers to book her own flights to be sure the times and layovers are reasonable and that she can accrue rewards. Many business travelers like Cipolla and McKeever rely on their frequent travel programs.
While Cipolla appreciates the perks with Marriott, McKeever says his company has a loyalty program with Hilton. Cipolla flies American Airlines racking up points, miles and free checked baggage. McKeever flies United Airlines, enjoying the comfort of the United Club card that he feels is worth the cost for a comfortable, quiet pre-flight work environment where he can hop on a conference call or send emails without the commotion and clamor of the open space in an airport.
Some companies and manufacturers prefer to book travel for their employees internally, although as a traveler, you can be subject to connecting flights and long layovers. Kaufman of SmartBrief works with a corporate travel partner but still opts to do some personal research so she can propose neighborhoods of interest, hotels, and anything else that may be unique to her travel destination.
More innovation could mean less aggravation
Using apps to book travel is a game changer, says Cipolla. “It’s fast, easy to manage and you have all the information at your fingertips. Whether it is Airbnb, Expedia or OpenTable, you can book 24/7, anywhere in the world.” She also notes that Wi-Fi in every hotel and airport is essential.
According to Forbes, self-service and mobile tech are a necessity for today’s corporate traveler. One of the most enduring guest trends from the pandemic is the desire for self-service.
Kaufman appreciates a remote check-in process so you can quickly gain access to your room in advance of important meetings, especially if flying the day of.
“Nothing is worse than getting to the rental car, office or hotel lobby and waiting in massive check-in lines when you’re short on time,” she explains.
McKeever shares that his company utilizes Concur software for most of their travel. “I like it. I have the Concur app on my phone, and can easily take pictures of expenses and log them into the app.”
Unique solutions for unique challenges
According to the U.S. Travel Association survey, more corporate executives say cost controls will constrain business travel. These trips are critical to the client, supplier and stakeholder relationships and the ability to meet with multiple parties.
Kaufman cites that the travel industry can accommodate sales travelers by providing customized recommendations based on the type of client meeting or even the type of client (foodie, adventurer, right down to business, etc.), like tailoring restaurant recommendations for a business lunch. Other local suggestions like coffee bars, bakeries, music or sports venues can greatly help cater to the client experience in an authentic, memorable way.
Cipolla asserts that travel must be convenient but also affordable and sensible with availability and flexibility. “Another business travel service that has proven invaluable is 12-24-hour facility access for sales travelers who may be passing through for a client meeting and need hospitable options to store luggage, shower, change, relax and prepare for the client meeting.”
The future of business travel
Personalization goes a long way in building relationships. If travel companies, lodging sites and airlines consider what’s most valuable to the client, they will be primed for success.
Cipolla explains that business is built on relationships, and salespeople need face-to-face time with their clients. In addition, training is typically done in person.
“We can’t continue to hide behind a computer screen and expect to grow sales,” she says. “People do business with people they like. If travel can be made easy, flexible, and affordable, in-person sales meetings will be the competitive edge.”
Read more from SmartBrief:
- Part 1: How to serve today’s digital nomad and bleisure travelers
- Part 2: How to serve conference and expo business travelers
- Report: Travel industry challenges ahead
- Study predicts rebound of business travel in 2023